Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’
In Tolkien’s celebrated trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins sets off from his home for the last time singing these words:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet,
And whither then? I cannot say.
Since first reading those words when I was a teenager I have associated them with this time in the Church’s calendar, and particularly with Jesus’ words in today’s reading: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
We have been celebrating the victory of Christ’s resurrection since Easter Day, and we are now on the eve of celebrating his Ascension. As the physical presence of Jesus finally departs from this mortal world, he promises us the hope of God’s very real presence and inspiration for the rest of time. Jesus promises us the certainty of God’s presence in our midst through the divine gift of the Holy Spirit … the coming of whom we will celebrate at Pentecost.
As we engage with scripture we know that God’s power has been at work in this world since the moment of its creation. We also know the power that was unleashed upon this world when his Son, Jesus Christ, came and lived among us. Surely we can expect nothing less powerful and disruptive when the final part of the Holy Trinity moves amongst us for the rest of time!
When we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and when we listen to his promptings, we will always feel challenged, and often threatened. But, God does not threaten us. God, through the Holy Spirit, is leading us towards the road of truth, a road that will always be new and unfamiliar to us, because of our rootedness in this mortal world. The Holy Spirit is constantly offering us his hand and inviting us to travel into the unknown as a disciple and apostle of Jesus Christ. Where that journey may take us will always be uncertain, hence the feelings of threat.
We are offered these words of scripture today because of tomorrow’s remembrance of Christ’s Ascension. Just as the disciples were finally separated from the physical presence of Jesus, so we often find ourselves in a similar place of distance and isolation. But … our loving, triune God is always with us in the form of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. Whilst we cannot stretch out our hands and physically touch the Spirit, we can be certain of his unfailing presence. But, that certainty only comes from faith in the words we are offered today.
Let us pray that whenever we feel that Christ is absent from us, that we may be reminded of his promise of the Spirit and the truth of his presence and strength in our lives for the rest of time.